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Bangalore and the Indian Tech Boom
Alex Steffen, 10 Aug 04

Brier Dudley at the Seattle Times has written a pretty decent overview of the growth of India's growing technology sector. It does a decent job of surveying the role of education, of returning overseas Indians, of government investment and access to global markets. Here's how he covers the Indian Institute of Technology:

"In 1950, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) opened in a former prison where the British had once held revolutionaries. ...

"The IITs admit only 2 percent of the 200,000 annual applicants, giving them a cultlike aura in a nation that has long honored education. Admission is seen as a ticket to jobs or graduate schools overseas — and a ticket out of poverty; despite India's growing status in the world economy, only 403 million of its 1 billion residents are employed, and nearly 60 percent of those jobs are in agriculture, according to the 2001 India census.

"India's federal government provides 70 percent of the school's annual budget directly. Government and industry research projects cover 20 percent, and the rest comes from tuition.

"But the campus boasts new buildings paid for with donations from distinguished alumni — a testament to the school's success at churning out not only a technology work force but industry leaders. Among them: Infosys Chief Executive Nandan Nilekani and former Microsoft General Manager Vijay Vashee.

"The investment in state-of-the-art education was not without risk, especially given India's pervasive poverty and staggering unemployment. And indeed, most of IIT's 4,000 annual graduates leave the country to find better jobs and pay than they can at home. Although opportunities are growing in India, about half of IIT Bombay's computer-science graduates in recent years left the country, mostly headed to the U.S. to work or attend graduate school.

"The gamble was that, over time, India would not just grow a tech-savvy work force; it would cultivate an industry."

But don't expect the last word on the subject. This article's fine for what it covers, but it's full of holes. It's reported from a business journalism perspective, full of (presumably unconsciously) slightly patronizing phrasings, and almost completely devoid of any discussion of the human costs and downsides of this trend (outsourcing is mentioned, but no worker who's lost her job to outsourcing is named, much less interviewed; poverty is mentioned, but the question as to whether promoting a proprietary software industry is an effective strategy for sustainable development doesn't even come up; the role of government comes up, but only in light of the question of whether government services as well as private sector jobs ought to be outsourced; and finally, there's plenty of tech boom here, and almost no tech bloom).

This is a useful and quick read, but I'm still looking for the killer essay on the Bangalore story.

Any nominations?

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The New Yorker had a pretty good article a week or so ago. It was about a star employee at Office Tiger. It dealt with some of the social costs to the employees, and how supposed trickle-down effects hadn't really kicked in.

Posted by: Jeremiah Blatz on 10 Aug 04

Hey Alex,

NPR just did a great piece on it. Unfortunately I cannot remember which program it was. Probably All Things Considered, but I'm not sure.

Posted by: Howard on 11 Aug 04

The New Yorker article was one of the finest pieces I've ever read, and hands-down the best I've seen on outsourcing -- it captured both sides of the story with compassion and nuance. Not online (at least not on the surface, thanks to the New Yorker's silly policies) but it was in the July 6 issue, and entitled "The Company Town" -- brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

Posted by: Brandon Keim on 13 Aug 04



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